Startling observations of Child Birth in the 1960s c/o The Madmen

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Like thousands of couples across the UK, sitting down to an evening of catch up after the children are in bed, Lisa and I start up Netflix to watch one of several box sets we are currently watching together. Right now we’re re-watching Mad Men, the story of Don Draper, a mysterious, sophisticated ladies man, at the top of the advertising industry in the USA.

The latest episode in our re-run tells the story of Betty’s (Don’s wife) birth of their third child.  The writers are meticulous in recreating the mindset of that time, attitudes towards women and child birth were so different to that of our beliefs and experience that I just had to make note of the startling observations I made.

Credit to AMC for the following screenshots.


Right off the top we see Don and Betty arrive at the hospital, birth imminent, Betty’s contractions are now close together. She is whisked off past the nursery down towards the delivery suite, Don being told to go wait in the solarium.  I was staggered, imagine being told “you’ve done your bit, now bugger off and go wait”!?

A nice dose of anxiety as Mum to be is carted off, her idea of child birth with her partner by her side supporting her vanishing behind her.  It was almost as if having the Father around during the birth would complicate matters.


Now time for a game of ‘Twenty Questions’. Betty is parked up and is asked some pretty unimportant questions, none of which are about her birth wishes or choices, including if she will breast feed.  When she curtly answers no, matron doesn’t flinch, if we weren’t bothered whether you’d breastfeed or not, why ask?  Again Mum should be comfortable right now, allowed to chill out, not get stressed out with criticism over what she had to east the day before!

Tweet about these startling revelations! Click To Tweet

Meanwhile, back in the waiting room, Don is reading an out of date newspaper (no doubt) and making new drinking buddies.

“Don’t worry dear, we drug everyone in your condition!” Have you ever heard of the Twilight Sleep? I hadn’t until this point, women were 100% knocked out with no memory of giving birth at all, Mother “woke up” to find that they were handing her the baby. Scopolamine assisted “twilight sleep” births  were a matter of course.


OK so here’s the thing, during natural child birth the Mother create’s lot’s of hormones, one significant one, oxytocin controls things like contractions, it helps bring them on, bringing us closer to baby.  Alone, anxious and stressed out, levels of adrenaline the natural ‘fight or flight’ hormone, starts to increase. Its the same hormone animals in the wild use to control the progress of the birth of their young, in case of danger.  Yes that’s right, wild bison for example can pause contractions if the herd is under threat from a predator. Not until the danger has passed will contractions start up again, all controlled by hormones.

Poor Betty is so stressed out, Don is nowhere to be seen, it’s an unfamiliar environment, shes pinned down by a butch nurse and there are lots of strange sounds and lights.  Would you want to give birth in a room like that?  So what happens when her birth does not progress because contractions have slowed down to a near stop?  The nurse administers yet more drugs and the staff prepare to deliver the baby themselves.  No consultation with Mum, Dad is still in the waiting room getting pissed with the prison warden (don’t ask, just watch the episode)!


No recollection of birth, waking from drug induced sleep, detached from reality Betty understands the baby is her’s but is so confused as to what happened, when and where she is.


Not a single crease in my shirt dear!  Thanks Don, you missed the whole thing, I mean it was as if your wife had been abducted by aliens and spat back out again with a small human in her hands.  Thirty years has passed for you Betty (despite not aging) but for Don it was just two hours!

Tweet about how men were treated in the 1950'sClick To Tweet

OK I know Don is a busy guy but straight back into work?  When the hospital said your job was done you really believed them! It wasn’t until the late 60s, early 70s that the process of giving birth started to include the men and start to listen to the Fathers feelings as well as the Mothers. Until that point everything that could be done to dissuade the Father to be around during and immediately after was done.

OK art might not quite imitate life, after all the primary function of this fiction is to entertain, not educate.  The reality was that by the 1960s there was a movement towards positive birthing experiences.  The narrator of this instructional video on Husband Coached Natural Childbirth comments on how since the 1930s, at the time of it’s recording, there were very few doctors and surgeons that had witnessed a natural child birth, now that is a startling fact!

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